Friday, January 31, 2014

#TechSeven - Facebook at 10 & airport Wi-Fi spying

I launched #TechSeven last week (see here) as a way to share details and background with listeners of my weekly tech talk segment on Montreal's CJAD 800 radio station with Barry Morgan. I was thrilled to see some folks connect via Twitter after the show wrapped, so I'm going to continue to post my packages of rough notes every Friday afternoon. Looking forward to hearing what y'all think. Here goes...

ONE - Facebook turns 10 this coming Tuesday!

Hard to believe our social media baby has been around for a full decade. The company celebrated hitting double digits with a very strong quarterly earnings call this week. Revenues are up 55% on the year, profits are up, too, and it's increasingly evident that much of that growth is thanks to mobile activity.

The company's had some stumbles along the way - including a botched IPO that had some people convinced it was headed for the dumper. But it's recovered strongly since then, and investors now see the company - and social media in general - as the real deal.

My teenaged kids may be spending more time on Snapchat and Tumblr than Facebook these days, but Facebook has shown a grown-up resilience in recent months that suggests, strongly, that it isn't planning on giving up its dominant position anytime soon.

TWO - Wi-Fi spying at the airport

All that mobile activity ties closely into this shocking story: Canada's electronic spy agency, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), as part of a pilot project, reportedly collected information from Canadians' wi-fi devices (including, but not limited to, smartphones) as they walked through an unidentified Canadian airport over a two week period. Phone numbers, device information, time and location were tracked, but the actual contents of the calls were not recorded (or so they say: for what it's worth, this is well within their capability, as well.)

This is like electronic toll highways such as Ontario's 407. As you enter the highway, a wireless network pings your transponder and generates data on who you are, where you are and when you entered the highway. As you drive down the highway, it continues to add to that record. The difference is you opt IN to toll highway participation. Secret airport Wi-Fi snooping? Not so much.

The CSEC reportedly used this ill-gotten information to further track travellers as they visited other Wi-Fi-enabled locations elsewhere in Canada. Ontario's Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian calls it unbelievable, and says it's something a totalitarian state might do. The CSEC has released this statement in response to this coverage.

This opens up a Pandora's Box of privacy and due diligence issues. If they're collecting this kind of metadata on us, the resulting database itself becomes a target for hackers and criminals. Big Brother no longer has to visit you at home. Increasingly, he follows you when you're out and about, too. And he may not always be able to keep all that information away from the bad guys. Scary stuff.

THREE - The Super Bowl of Tech

This Sunday's Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos could very well be the only time this year that many of us watch even part of a football game. Let's face it: it isn't about the football. The game has become a spectacle, and tech makes it more fun for the non-fan to enjoy the party.

First: Canadians can rejoice because all the best ads will be available on YouTube. Some have even been leaked ahead of time (big surprise there) and since the Canadian simulcasts often substitute Canadian commercials for the big-buck American ones, going online is our best chance to see what everyone's talking about. Point your browser toward YouTube's official AdBlitz channel to get in on the fun.

Second, if you've been looking for a deal on a TV, now could be a good time. A FatWallet survey shows Americans buy more TVs just before the Super Bowl than any other time. Expect similar experiences in sports-mad Canada. Which means there's a lot of competition out there for your TV-buying dollar. And if you head to the mall today, you may be able to bring a new big-screen TV home for less.

Third, once you're watching the game on your new TV, keep an eye out for Google Glass. At least one of the sportscasters and some officials on the field are planning on wearing the high-tech Cyborg-like glasses, and they'll be sharing their views with viewers from home. No word on whether we'll have GoPro cameras on the players themselves, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

FOUR - European Union cops want a kill switch on every car

Police forces in Europe are calling for car manufacturers to install, in every vehicle, a remotely-accessible kill switch that allows police forces to slow down and stop a fleeing vehicle. If you're ever had your vehicle stolen, this is a good thing, as it gives police a safer alternative to a high-speed chase. Just fire up an app, identify the suspect vehicle, and send the command to bring it to a safe stop. GM already builds this capability into some versions of its ONStar automotive telematics system, but that's an option for GM vehicles only, and customers have to specifically subscribe to the service. The EU motion is far broader.

There's a but, here. Built-in kill switches in every vehicle can be hacked. Since they're now part of a wide area wireless network, hackers and criminals can, in theory, break into the car remotely and turn it off themselves. No technology is perfectly secure, and it's only a matter of time before the bad guys pull of their first heist. Maybe I should start riding my bike more often. As soon as the snow melts...

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